With a focus on agile implementation, SOL Tomorrow is currently looking for startups to collaborate in the Portuguese capital restarting activities. The program, which will operate on a totally remote basis, has applications open for startups with solutions already tested or being implemented, with a focus on technologies applied to social issues and the city economy.
For Miguel Gaspar, responsible Councilor for the Economy and Innovation, Mobility and Security Division at the Lisbon City Council, “this is a special edition of the main open innovation program in the Portuguese capital. We will seek to respond to the multiple challenges we are experiencing and will continue to face in the recovery period from the economic crisis created by COVID-19, while stimulating the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and affirming Lisbon as one of the most innovative cities in Europe. In addition to having the participation of a diverse set of public and private partners, in this edition we decided to involve all areas of the executive power, bringing innovation to all activity sectors”.
According to Manuel Tânger, co-founder and Head of Innovation at Beta-i, “together with the Lisbon Municipality, we want to give an immediate answer to the most urgent challenges in a city where millions of people are restarting their routines. The SOL Tomorrow program wants to support startups that have almost immediate implementation solutions on topics such as mental health, job training and social isolation, to grow together with partner organizations and provide answers to the problems caused by the pandemic ”.
How it works
Over the course of three months and after the selection process, the best startups proposals will participate in a two-day online bootcamp to start developing implementation projects with the partners, adapted to the five key areas’ challenges previously established by partners: (i) economic and tourism recovery, through the creation of new practices of involvement with tourists and local communities, new forms of contactless payments, etc; (ii) new work paradigm, by reducing the physical presence in the city management functions, optimizing the public space for commercial activities, etc; (iii) remote work and learning, through the ability to check the city’s infrastructure remotely, e-Learning resources for children and adults on topics related to the crisis, etc; (iv) City resilience and confidence building, through real-time information on compliance measures with the sanitation of public and private spaces, overcrowding management technologies, etc; and finally (v) social emergency and unemployment, through topics such as digital and virtual integration of the elderly and digital education for people in vulnerable areas.
From July until September, each solution kick-started in the bootcamp phase will then be tested and implemented in real context.
According to Vanessa Romeu, Director of Corporate Communication at LIDL Portugal, “COVID-19 brought completely new challenges to the retail sector, and since the first day, as a company, we have been committed to creating solutions to support those who need it most. As such, being part of SOL Tomorrow makes perfect sense, as we are extremely concerned with helping to find lasting solutions to the new challenges our customers are experiencing”.
Marco Fernandes, CEO of PME Investimentos, points out that “Initiatives such as SOL Tomorrow are of the greatest importance due to the capacity to promote new ideas and new businesses, even more with a strong component of social innovation and sustainability. In the current context of the gradual revival of economies and activities from Covid19 negative impacts, a program like this gains even more relevance. It´s a great pleasure for PME Investimentos and for our 200M and Social Innovation Funds to be partners along with other such relevant public and private entities. We hope to support the entrepreneurs to achieve their goals and leverage their ‘tech for good’ projects, help building a more innovative and inclusive country ”.
Inês Sequeira, Director of Department of Entrepreneurship and Social Economy at Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa and Founder, Director of Casa do Impacto, highlights that “we hope the solutions presented in this program can be applied to the context of the city of Lisbon and our organization in a really effective way. For us, it is very important to find startups and entrepreneurs with the capacity to create impactful projects that respond to real challenges that organizations like Santa Casa live on the ground. We look forward to bringing a new look to some of our organization’s processes and some of our approaches. Our association with SOL Tomorrow brings us closer to new solutions and pilots with SCML equipment and services, inserted in a program that makes these partnerships agile and efficient. ”
Miguel Aguiar, B2B Corporate Innovation & Transformation Manager at NOS, says that “we have been partners of Smart Open Lisboa for some years and what we have seen is that through these programs we are able to interact with a series of entrepreneurs, being startups or partners. Our main objective at SOL Tomorrow is to find new models to help our customers adapt to this new standard and overcome their new challenges”.
And according to Ana Caldeira, Director of Innovation and Project Management at Turismo de Portugal, “we hope that together with all partners we can validate and implement startup solutions that are safe both for the inhabitants of the city of Lisbon, as well as for tourists visiting us on daily basis. In the face of the pandemic, we want to continue to provide safe and authentic experiences for Lisbon residents and travellers”.
SOL Tomorrow is one of the vertical programs of Smart Open Lisboa, an open innovation initiative by CML managed by Beta-i, with a focus on validating and integrating innovative solutions created to improve life in cities. In the long term, the initiative aims to be a platform for communication and collaboration between different stakeholders – the city, its citizens, companies and startups – and a framework to accelerate innovative solutions.
Recognized as one of the central agents of corporate innovation and digital transformation for companies and startups in Portugal and abroad, Beta-i kicks off 2020 with 25 open innovation, business models acceleration and innovation design projects, for customers in almost 20 countries. Besides, it ends February with one-third of its business objectives for the year fulfilled and with a clear plan for internationalization. In other words: we still have a long way to go up to December – but we’re quite happy so far.
Some of the main companies operating in key economic areas in Portugal (such as Millennium BCP, Novartis, José de Mello Group, Inmarsat, Siemens, Fosun / Fidelidade, Daimler, EDP, SIBS, Ageas, Semapa, Sonae, Galp and Nestlé, in addition to Turismo de Portugal / Visit Portugal, Câmara de Lisboa / Lisbon Municipality and Ministério do Mar / Ministry of the Sea) have been developing collaborative innovation projects with Beta-i.
Not only in Portugal: Beta-i manages the leading open innovation program for energy in the world (Free Electrons) and is currently setting up global consortiums dedicated to circular economy and airports. Check this Free Electrons summary:
Tangible impact results come up because Beta-i’s approach facilitates the convergence and exchange of expertise between corporates and a network of thousands of startups from around the world, in order to drive business models transformation based on technological solutions. Investors, public institutions and university research centres are also part of this ecosystem connected by Beta-i, which over the past decade has helped the business development of more than 900 startups.
Pedro Rocha Vieira, CEO and Co-founder of Beta-i, points out that Fintech and Banking, Circular Economy, Healthtech and Pharmaceuticals, Energy, Water and the Economy of the Sea, Smart Cities and Mobility are sectors that are currently experiencing a deeper and even more accelerated transformation, therefore counting on greater pressure to reinvent themselves.
He points out that in not only these segments, but also Retail and Mass Consumption, Tourism, Insurtech, Airports and public services face similar challenges ready to become opportunities. “Collaborating with startups in a concrete way, through the open innovation programs managed by Beta-i, is a pragmatic response to these challenges that we believe will intensify in the next three years”. Watch one more example, now regarding the health industry and our Techcare program with Novartis:
An interview with Stephen Comello, director of the Energy Business Innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Free Electrons invited researcher: “Innovation takes time, and it’s about trusting people”
How can we figure out the real organizational and business impact of corporate-startup collaboration in such a large industry as Energy? That’s part of what Stephen Comello, director of the Energy Business Innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business, explores as invited researcher for Free Electrons – a global open innovation energy platform, managed by Beta-i on behalf of a consortium of 10 utilities that collectively generate over $170 billion/year in revenue and operate in over 40 countries. The Free Electrons program 2020 call for energy startup applications is open until the January 31st (by the way, get to know the amazing alumni from previous years here).
Comello is also a senior research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy, Policy and Finance at Stanford University, not to mention some other roles you can check out here. His research focuses broadly on energy technology, economics, policy, and innovation. In particular, by applying tools and methods within economics, management and systems analysis, he investigates innovation and competitiveness of low-carbon energy solutions. Together with his colleague Ann-Kristin Zobel from ETH Zurich, they examine how the Free Electrons program is emerging as a unique innovation platform within the Energy industry – a critical sector from both economic and sustainability perspectives. Meet the involved utilities here.
In this interview made in December 2019 at Beta-i hub in Lisbon, Comello talks about how open innovation is a useful approach for large companies to gain new capabilities and build new business models through strategic complementarity with startups, in an attempt to thrive during sectoral upheaval. He also highlights a key component in building innovation for real, no bullshit involved: trust. “Innovation takes time and requires the mindset that this is going to be a dynamic process based – in large part – on trusting people”.
First of all, thank you Stephen for your time. In a nutshell, can you explain what you do?
Thank you for the opportunity! I lead the energy business innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which is a research group that’s looking at how technology, policy and organizations co-evolve to influence the business cases for advanced energy solutions. We conduct lots of technoeconomic analyses on different technologies such as solar-plus-storage, electric vehicles and hybrid energy systems to understand how they become more economic or competitive over time. We also spend a lot of time looking into organizational innovation within the energy sector. What we are keen to understand is how companies – small and large – are gaining new capabilities through acquiring new knowledge and putting that knowledge to work in an attempt to thrive in a new, changing energy ecosystem.
And how did you get involved with Free Electrons?
I wanted to learn a lot more about the process innovation, beyond the simple measure of cost declines due to gains in experience. I wanted to know the people. I wanted to know how organizations make innovation happen. This was something in the back of my mind in early 2016, and it just so happened that one of the founders of the Free Electrons program was someone within the Stanford ecosystem. Upon asking me if I would be interested in exploring the program, I jumped at the opportunity. I believe programs like Free Electrons are something that the energy industry really needs and I was happy, and lucky, to have the chance to follow along on the journey.
These are the 10 leading energy utilities behind Free Electrons
Your whole career seems to be connected to the energy sector, investigating innovation or sustainable practices and models. So what have you observed in Free Electrons that could be framed as singular or unique?
Free Electrons is interesting in how established companies – some operating for over 100 years – think about and change their business models. These large incumbent organizations are being disrupted by the four forces of the energy transition: decentralization, decarbonization, digitalization and deregulation. These are macro-trends all happening at once and they are really changing the makeup and the dynamics of the industry. In the case of the Free Electrons, the electricity industry.
What’s compelling about Free Electrons is it is a way for utilities that don’t normally work together to learn together in an open platform, share experiences and knowledge, and experiment with startups – all in a very efficient way in order to understand the potential of cutting-edge solutions that ultimately will change their business models.
And how could you define the Beta-i role in this process? How do we contribute to make these collaborations happen and to achieve tangible results and impact?
There are 10 utility partners from across the world and 15 startups, each of latter is selected by the utilities to form an annual cohort. Think about all the different kinds of interactions that could happen that need to be coordinated, that need to be managed, that in some cases need to be inspired. A designated entity must take them through a process, create a structure, create a community, bring everyone together so that all participants – utility and start-up – feel protected, safe and able to really put their best minds forward.
That’s what Beta-i does. Beta-i is basically the connective tissue that helps make innovation-forward collaborations happen. It is the connective tissue that helps enable these start-ups and utilities to experiment with each other to explore breakthrough solutions and their assess their potential.
The collaboration between corporates and startups is for sure crucial to accelerate innovation for both sides. But this can be as impactful as tricky, depending on the case. I know you are still investigating and there’s a long way to go, but could you share what you consider to be the main challenge to create tangible results between these two stakeholders?
One of the greatest challenges is understanding that utilities and startups operate at two different speeds. There’s strategic complementarity, where you have a startup that may have a lot of ideas and can be nimble and adjust quickly – they want to help solve the problems that emerge within a program like Free Electrons. At the same time, the utility has immense resources, marketing and brand recognition. However the utility has multiple business and legacy systems to consider, and an organization that needs to ingest these emerging solutions. The utility will move slower than the start-up because of these elements and others. The two groups – start-ups and utilities – operate at two different speeds. The startup really wants to go quickly, and the utility – rightfully so – wants to make sure that there is a right fit.
So one of the main challenges, when a start-up and utility work together, is to bring the start-up along at a reasonable pace while increasing the speed of the utility, but doing so in a mindful way so that no party is worse off. I find that a program like Free Electrons allows that modulation to happen, where it attempts to bring start-ups and utilities to the same level so they can actually speak the same language, spend the time, get really detailed, in order to then explore a solution that can potentially solve real-life problems.
Free Electrons utilities facts & figures
Were you able to identify a key convergence point? I mean, a kind of “aha moment” that is crucial to make this sync happen? Is it when you define the pilots to be developed? Or when you have a model canvas to be designed? Does this point exist?
I think that one way to think about it is that innovation takes time – especially collaborative innovation. I believe a helpful mindset is one which understands that the innovation journey is going to be a dynamic process, where you will never have complete information but you trust the people you’re working with and you can figure it out together; whether proposed solutions lead to useful collaborations or must be cut off quickly because it’s actually not being fruitful. Open innovation emphasizes open communication, sharing as much relevant, detailed knowledge as possible and trusting that the other person is an expert in their field and wants the best for the collaboration.
This is super interesting because we are talking about trust and then being confident about these relationships, in a zeitgeist moment where trust is a weak point in very different relationship levels – being post-truth, fake news, deep fake, greenwashing or any jargon we could use.
What is really helpful in building trust is being open and truthful upfront: “these are the constraints that I feel or that I face. These are the fears that I have. These are the solutions that I might have. These have been my experiences”. Going back to my earlier point, all of this takes time to really exchange that information, to convey those sentiments. This builds the deepness and trust that you need when things become a little bit gnarly – the idea that these people are honest.
In this world of uncertainty, people are going to be dealing with a lot more failure than success, and to be able to keep moving forward you can’t do it by yourself because the solutions space is so large and there is so much unknown, at least initially. You really want to establish trust – because you need others to help you move forward, and others will only stick around if trust has been fostered.
So a collaborative innovation enabler like Beta-i also has a role as a “diplomatic moderator”, a trust-connector in the end.
Yes, because the Beta-i team are the embodiment of the culture. They work with the utilities to design the program and then they implement it, all the while being a steward for the purposes and goals of the program. So not only is the Beta-I team the one helping design the culture, but it also acts as an ambassador for culture in executing the program. They need to personify what Free Electrons ought to be, which is future-looking, open, innovative, trust-building and collaborative.
Building trust with the Beta-i team for Free Electrons 2020: Claudia Ferreira, Mafalda Freitas, Stephen Comello, Assunção Cruz
Your investigation goes through six different layers. The Individual, the Pilots, the Utilities, the Program as a Meta-Organization, the Consortium within the industry and the Industry itself. Which one is raising more interest from your side, as a researcher? What has been more compelling to explore?
They are all interesting! That is why we have six projects, each looking at Free Electrons from a different unit of analysis; from the individual at the smallest level, to the whole industry at the largest level. We have created a research portfolio because the setting is so rich.
As an example – at the firm level – we explored how different organizations such as individual utilities and start-ups… and program managers… work to form common goals for the group, or as we call it, the meta-organization. We studied how in some cases working at the system level for the common “good” competed with what was in the best interest of any one firm. We realized that there is a dynamic process – that certain goals gain prominence over time, then wane, and this is a complex dance of power, persuasion, negotiation and signaling, among others.
Another example – at the individual level, we explored how individuals within start-ups and utilities share knowledge with each other – how they act as boundary spanners, occupying spaces at the interface between their own organizations – internally – and all others – externally. We explored how broadly and deeply individuals share knowledge both internally and externally, and what this means for the shape of collaborations.
Boundary spanning is a crucial skill – and mindset – that is fundamental to open innovation. Boundary spanners need to become experts in the language of their own organization, but they also have to become experts in the language of the external organizations. So if you’re a utility, you have to both speak utility and startup or if you’re a startup, you have to speak both startup and utility. Operating at that boundary requires being open to all the different kinds of information that comes your way – and being able to translate that effectively, all the while understanding how emotion affects all involved as well. Because everything builds upon people. That’s why we are looking at Free Electrons from the individual, “person” level, and then all the way up to the industry level.
I loved two concepts, or practices, you came up with in this investigation: one is “meta-organization”, and the other, the “corporate boundary spanners”. Would you say that open innovation, as a whole, is a key approach to make this meta-organizational design, and this spanner role, grow within the business management environment? Do you believe that open innovation is a key agent to unlock this process when it comes to contemporary business management?
I’d say that open innovation is an interesting and useful way to gain and build capabilities within an organization. There is a lot of knowledge and ideas outside the corporate boundaries, and it is becoming increasingly important, I believe, to be able to harness those resources, and at the same time transmit your own knowledge into the world. How a firm goes about intentionally acquiring, transmitting and making use of knowledge and ideas across its organizational boundaries is an important capability in and of itself. That is a skill set within the boundary spanner mantra. The practice of open innovation is a strategic resource that all firms ought to seriously consider building.
This is made even more important now because of digitalization, which is causing many traditional industry verticals to become increasingly intermeshed. Digitalization – the rise in use and sophistication of data science, analytics, the cloud and so on – is a horizontal force, allowing for new business models that span sectors. This is a highly dynamic environment. There’s a lot of knowledge being created and there’s a lot of factors emerging such that any one organization, any one individual, will simply not know.
We are running the 2020 edition of Free Electrons. Can you share your goal regarding this year’s edition? What are the outcomes you want to achieve as a researcher?
The high-level research theme for the 2020 edition is about impact. We now have a history; we have 2017, 2018 and 2019 cohorts. In what specific ways have the start-ups that have been through the program benefited? To what extent? What might be design changes that could be implemented that increase the benefit to the start-ups? What might it take to implement such changes? Other questions we will explore have to do with the design changes to the program already. A critical resource being developed in Free Electrons in not only the start-up to utility collaborations, it is the knowledge created through multiple interactions and examinations of solutions, pilots, etc. How has this knowledge been captured and transmitted, and how has this changed? In what ways does the knowledge make the actors – both start-ups and utilities – “better” at open innovation? These are the kinds of questions we’ll be considering for 2020. I find this is very exciting.
Amazing. Would you like to add something more?
I have to say that I’m very thankful to be here in Lisbon at Beta-i. As an academic, it’s always a bit of a struggle to get information from practitioners. Especially when you’re in the social sciences, you rely heavily on other people to provide you information – whether it be in form of documentation, interviews, direct observations and other forms. The openness that Beta-i has shown my team and me has been fantastic. Beta-i has a true learning culture and vast experiences as open innovation shepherds. My team and I have been able to learn meaningfully from each and every Beta-I team member. Beyond their expertise, they are a really fun group – which makes our work all the more pleasurable!
The Open Innovation programs The Journey and Protechting achieved major pilot results – involving 23 startups from 15 countries, in three continents – to develop new solutions on Tourism, Fintech, Insurtech and Healthtech businesses
The crucial moment for establishing collaborative processes between corporates and startups, within Open Innovation programs, is unquestionably the Bootcamp. Under the method implemented by Beta-i over the years (and it’s been a decade!), Bootcamps are the turning point of every program, as the people behind the needs of organizations and the solutions brought by startups meet one on one, to develop something new – and collectively get achievable results.
The latest Beta-i Bootcamps on Tourism (The Journey) and the Fintech, Healthtech and Insurtech triad (Protechting) are a robust example of this process, with 29 pilots going to be considered and developed from 23 startups of 15 countries to impact both B2B and B2C fronts.
The Journey: innovation in Tourism
This Open Innovation program deals with one of the most interconnected industries of the contemporary era: Tourism, a gigantic cluster that generates economic, social and even identity consequences for the destinations visited. Goes without saying that the Tourism sector has been booming in Portugal for years in a row, and that’s why this Open Innovation program has been connecting key players in the Portuguese market with innovators from all over the world. “The Tourism Industry is one of the most competitive ones, and we must build everyday solutions and new services to our customers while envisioning the future,” explains Sergio Guerreiro, Senior Director Knowledge Management & Innovation from Turismo de Portugal, one of the organizations investing in the program alongside Barraqueiro Group, Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua and Vila Galé Hotels (in addition to Unicre, a key payment solutions provider in the country that participates as a Data Partner).
Every innovator deserves a break: The Journey participants on a hop-on hop-off bus and boat
In its 4th edition, the program investigated and selected startups able to tackle Hospitality, Parks & Monuments and Tours & Activities pain points shared by our clients, then linked to themes such as Smart Connected Operations, Seamless Traveler Journey, Customer Experience and Sustainable Development Solutions. These scouting challenges emerge a result of the needs assessments carried out by Beta-i’s expert team alongside the participant corporates teams, so the process can converge to common goals from the very beginning – and so can be explored in the Bootcamp.
The result of this concerted effort generated in the end of October the excellent result of 17 pilots, from 11 startups of 6 countries in Europe and Asia. “This number is a result of the program’s direct response to these tourism operators challenges,” says Gonçalo Faria, Open Innovation Program Director at Beta-i, who also highlights “some very interesting solutions on water and energy efficiency, aiming for a more sustainable tourism”. The results of this collaboration will be known at the end of January 2020, when The Journey comes to an end with one of the key events for tourism innovation businesses in Portugal: the Lisbon Tourism Summit 2020, focused on sustainability and organized by Beta-i, which counts with The Journey’s Demo Day on its programming: in other words, the moment when the results of these collaboratively developed pilots are presented to the stakeholders.
Protechting: tackling multiple industry challenges and geographies
Bootcamps are a special moment because, as Beta-i Senior Growth Strategist Tomás Bento recalls, “startups come in very ambitious for the program, but sometimes lack the experience to make the best win-win connections with corporates. And we believe that our contribution is fundamental to trim every potential down to the very essentials, and help them set up a bolder pitch”. And that’s exactly what happened at the Protechting bootcamp, which ended on November 21st in Lisbon, where 12 pilots were selected out of 21 different startups from 12 countries in three continents. As Beta-i’s Program Director Francisco Carvalho adds, “thanks to this collaboration, some startups were able to fully adapt their technologies, turning their initial proposals into much more fit and desirable solutions for the participant corporates”.
Shiny happy people: corporates, startups and Beta-i celebrating the closing of Protechting Bootcamp
Protechting is defiant by definition as it brings together different industries under the leadership of the same shareholder, the Chinese group Fosun – the name behind companies such as Fidelidade (Insurtech track), Luz Saúde Learning Health (Healthtech track) and the German bank Hauck & Aufhäuser (Fintech track). The process was tailored to this consortium, which in addition to different industries also operates in different geographies and has a particular involvement with China. To solve that, two groups of startups were selected: one for pilots development, and another (with more primary business models, coming from other 5 countries) for a parallel mentoring and acceleration path. “We truly believe in Open Innovation. The Protechting program gives us access to startups from around the world, and in order to accommodate both our strategic and geographic goals, we created these two groups. The pre-acceleration one is focused on bringing startups from markets where we are expanding right now, such as Mozambique and Peru” says José Villa de Freitas, Fidelidade’s marketing manager.
This strategic ambition facilitated by Protechting is reinforced by Harald Patt, CEO at Fosun Europe Innovation Hub and Managing Director of Fosun’s Wealth Department and Fintech Sector. Responsible for the Chinese group’s deal flow on startups, Patt sees the program as a concrete way to incorporate new solutions into the company portfolio. “In addition to the areas where we operate around the world, it is important to remember that we´re deeply rooted in China and we are able to generate great opportunities there.”
Bootcamps are particularly prized by Patt, since it’s the crucial moment where original ideas, created to solve people and organizations daily problem, leverage their approaches as business models. “It’s exciting. Startups with good ideas and bad pitches often turn out to present amazing solutions at the end of the pilot phase. Not to mention that this is the moment of truth, where they must prove a differentiated and scalable technology”. What was a surprise in the beginning – a global open innovation program set up all the way from Portugal – now is the new normal to him: “although central Europe is not always paying attention, the Portuguese ecosystem is very active and we are aware of this”.
I confess that as a young girl I truly believed that by the time I turned 40 teletransportation will be a common way to avoid traffic jams. As the date is fast-approaching, and although teletransportation is still a mirage, I believe that we are evolving fast enough that transportation will no longer be a pain and, something that a young Joana never worried but now keeps me up at night, better for the environment.
As environment goes electric transportation is allowing us to keep moving without polluting the air with tons of CO2 per mile. Some Governments seem more committed than others in providing the conditions for the expansion of electric vehicles: Amsterdam has pledged to ban all gasoline and diesel powered cars by 2030 and is now offering charging stations to those moving to e-vehicles.
Shared mobility is another big trend. As an epic road rager, I am a fan of not owning a car and only drive when I really, really must, using car sharing services and being a fan of uber. However, at Beta-i we always like to verify what customers really want of each product and in Japan Orix found out that youngsters are using shared cars as a place to crash and spend the night almost as much as they use them for moving around.
Finally, a trend I am most fan of: all the tricks and knowledge on how to get from point A to point B as seamlessly and fastest as possible. That is why I am a huge fan of Meep, one of the startups that participated in the first edition of SOL Mobility, and that allows me to choose the fastest, cheaper or more environmentally friendly way of moving around.
It’s not teletransportation, but sounds good enough for me!